The name Jerubbaal is distinctive. If it did not belong to Gideon, then it likely belonged to someone named for him.
An archaeological discovery is lending credence to the book of Judges. Excavations at a site in Southern Israel have yielded a shard of pottery emblazoned with the name of the biblical judge Jerubbaal. This is the first time a name from the book of Judges has emerged from a dig.
Haaretz’s Ruth Schuster explains that the inscription was written on the ceramic fragment in ink. The shard was dated to 3,100 years ago, which coincides with the Book of Judges. The report goes on to note that it was discovered in a stone-lined, subterranean storage pit. While experts cannot say if there was more to the inscription, they believe the vessel was small and most likely contained a precious material, like oil or medicine.
The name was written in an ancient alphabet that was developed nearly 4,000 years ago. It is believed to have been invented by merchants or slaves who were too old to properly learn Egyptian hieroglyphics. It would have still been in use during the period in which the Book of Kings was recorded.
In order to fully understand the significance of this discovery, it is important to know the history of Jerubbaal. Originally named Gideon, Jerubbaal was an Israelite military leader, judge, and prophet whose victory over the Midianites is recorded in Judges 6-8.
Prior to this war, Gideon was tasked by God to destroy an altar to the false god Baal. After accomplishing this task, the people who worshiped Baal wanted to put Gideon to death, but his father quelled their anger. He suggested that if Baal were a real god then he could punish Gideon himself. Then his father gave Gideon the name Jerubbaal, which literally means “contender with Baal.”
Watch Jerusalem points out that as an Israelite who defeated an idol, he became very well known across the land. In fact, at one point the Israelites tried to make Gideon king, which he refused, citing God’s rule as the only one that mattered. Still, his name would have been popularized in Israelite culture, which is where we come back to archaeology.
Was it Gideon’s?
There is debate over whether or not the inscription found on the shard refers to Gideon, or to another Jerubbaal. It is quite possible that it did belong to him, as it was discovered in the Judean lowlands. It is not a stretch to imagine that a famed Jewish judge would travel all the lands in his jurisdiction at one point or another.
Following this logic, it is also possible that the jug had belonged to him and was cast aside, or perhaps it was even ordered by him, but never delivered. Even if it did not belong to the Jerubbaal of Judges, that another Israelite of the same era bore the name suggests the authenticity of the Judges narrative.
Jerubbaal is a very distinct name with a firm meaning. In order for someone else to have been so named, they must have also distinguished themselves as a combatant of Baal. If there was another Israelite by that name, it is much more likely that they were named for Gideon, rather than coming to that name on their own.
If the pottery belonged to Gideon, then it is a priceless artifact that helps verify the biblical account. If it belonged to a different man named Jerubbaal, then it suggests that the events of Judges inspired the name of a child of the same era. It should be noted that the book of Judges had not been written at this time and the events would have been spread by word of mouth.
Either way it is a fascinating discovery and another valuable piece of historical evidence to support the biblical narratives.